Taking More Pictures Will Not Make You a Better Photographer

Taking More Pictures Will Not Make You a Better Photographer

Someone once said that "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." This means you have to take lots of pictures to get better in the craft. I don't agree with that. Improving your photography as well as videography skills is often compared to an athlete training. The athlete regularly repeats a number of exercises for certain muscles. Musicians are the same. They train their abilities to play musical instruments by repeating sound sequences and so do singers. All these disciplines repeat and repeat what they do. It has to be the same with photography, right?No. It's not.

Who Said That?

Henri Cartier-Bresson said the statement above. He used to practice candid photography and he was not practicing how a correct exposure is made. He was not practicing posing and directing on a daily basis. He practiced photographing the right moment, not pressing the shutter lots of times. That's why I don't agree with the wording of his statement. It's not training yourself to press the button, but rather training yourself when not to take a photograph.

Jogging by the lake

How To Properly Train Yourself

I started photography as a business; it wasn't a hobby. I purposely decided I would learn the craft in order to make it my business. I learned the basic theory, then I bought a camera. In the beginning my practice was to just go out and take lots of pictures, as they advised. I shot plenty of garbage and had very few keepers. My main question was "What makes the better pictures that I happen to get sometimes, 'better'?", and also, "How can I repeat them?" The answer to that question was: "Stop taking pictures. Sit down and look at photographs and try to understand them."

Writers get better by reading, not by writing. They train their imagination by repeating the process of absorbing stories. They don't just write sentences every day. Their tool is their imagination and that's what they need to train. An athlete's tools are their muscles and they train them directly by repeating exercises. Writers train their imagination and then it flows through the pen; their tool.

After I understood that, I started looking at more and more photographs by professionals that I admired. I tried to understand why they lit them like they did or why they posed the people like they did, or why they chose that camera angle. Instead of taking lots of photographs I started to plan to take just one picture. I wanted to know the technical process ahead of time so I knew exactly how to execute it. Then I repeated the process of understanding photographs and re-creating them. And again. And again.

Having done that, many of my first 10,000 photographs are still in my portfolio.

365 Projects And Similar

Such projects are aimed towards the number of pictures being taken. They do not train the skills of a photographer to create masterpieces. They train them to press the shutter even if they don't know why. So, what's the point?

You are better off planning a project for one month and creating a single masterpiece than 30 mediocre snapshots. Nobody will notice your snapshots, but how about the masterpiece?

Conclusion

Improving your photography is not about the repetition of pressing the shutter regularly. It's about constantly training your mind to understand, visualize and plan the technical execution of every visual piece of art. Watch lots of visual stories and learn to read them; train your eyes and imagination.

Stop taking pictures on a regular basis.

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123 Comments

I don't agree - at least not fully. I did a 365 project a number of years ago and found that it helped me 'keep at it' and be constantly on the look-out for an interesting image or intriguing composition/moment/etc. It didn't train my photography skills as much as it helped me to view the world around me 'through a camera lens' even when I wasn't holding a camera in my hands.

Also taking a lot of pictures outside of 'P' or full automatic mode, helps get to know the tool (=camera) and how to quickly adjust specific settings as required or desired. This should become second nature and that takes practice, as well.

In my opinion, you're recommendations are what has to come after the photographer is proficient at operating the tool in his hand.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

That's a correct observation Andrew. My arguments are towards those who want to become professionals and to be able to wisely utilize their time working in that direction.

Anonymous's picture

I've heard nothing but the opposite from professionals. Take as many pictures as you can is what i've always been told. I got to speak to the legendary cinematography Roger Deakins a few years ago and asked him some advice. He said shoot, shoot and shoot. He got his start in shooting documentaries and said that time in his career was invaluable to him as a professional because he was always shooting. He said the only way to learn is to do it over and over again until you have enough experience to rise to any challenge. Which is never so keep shooting. I really took that to heart. He still to this day shoots stills in his off time. I think that says something about constantly shooting. He's a master at what he does yet chooses to keep shooting in his off time.

So I don't agree with this at all. I think maybe the fact that photography was never a hobby for you says something. I picked up a camera because it intrigued me, not to start a business and make money. If you're not always shooting(I mean within reason) you'll never master anything.

"Writers get better by reading, not by writing" absolutely incorrect. no way. yes reading helps but writing constantly is a huge help. Maybe not just a sentence but writing short stories, articles etc etc is extremely valuable to a writer. Jim Uhls, who wrote fight club gave some great advice on a podcast a while ago. Write 3 scripts without editing and when you're done the 3rd go back and edit the 1st. His reasoning was that you're a better writer by the time you hit script number 3 so you'll edit your first script better. If all you do is read all you do is write like those authors whose books you read.

When you're shooting constantly you see the world through your lens even when the camera is not at your eye. Even in commercial work this is valuable.

I'm sure you're a great shooter but this is some bad advice.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Yes, I don't shoot regularly (both stills and video) but I am learning every single day by watching, reading, examining, looking at visuals.

If the advice of Roger Deakins is taken literally, it's a bad advice. If my advice is taken literally. It's a bad advice too.

Experience is something nothing else can beat. Shoot, shoot, shoot, means "have lots of experience behind you". This experience may not be the hours of footage or number of files, or number of times the shutter is pressed.

We are living in a time where there's quite a lot of information about lighting and photography (both for stills and video). Trying to reinvent the wheel by shooting, then switching lenses, then shooting, then changing camera settings, then shooting again, will not help to advance very fast.

It's a paradox that today everyone wants everything right here and right now. If one needs better results sooner than later, they need to dig into the understanding of photography first and then pick up a camera and try it out; not just shooting every day. That will take them much further than shooting for 365 days on their own and learning not so much about mastering light and composition.

Anonymous's picture

"If the advice of Roger Deakins is taken literary, it's a bad advice" I think his career says otherwise dude. I mean you already put down one of the greatest photographers of our time why not one of the greatest cinematographers too.

"We are living in a time where there's quite a lot of information about lighting and photography" absolutely we are. but if all your doing is taking in that information and not practicing it whats the point?

shooting constantly trains your brain to see things the way the camera does. To be able to walk up to any situation and know what lens, exposure etc to use is what a photographer should have.

You can't master light and composition without shooting. Reading about it can only take you so far. You're not reinventing the wheel every time you change lenses. You're figuring out what look you want, what tool is right for what job. I'm all for shooting one camera/one lens until your brain learns what that looks like but again you can't do that without shooting a lot.

"Experience is something nothing else can beat. Shoot, shoot, shoot, means "have lots of experience behind you". This experience may not be the hours of footage or number of files, or number of times the shutter is pressed." When Roger said shoot shoot and shoot to me he meant it. He said spend as much time as you can behind a camera. You cannot deny his advice. he's a master of light and composition because he has experience. He's experimented and you can't do that without shooting a lot.

No one is talking about getting results sooner. you'll never be the best shooter, theres no ceiling. If you keep shooting and experimenting you'll get better and find what you want to shoot.

Learning and reading can only take you so far. You have to practice to get better.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Composition and lighting can be mastered with very little shooting. Knowing the camera simply takes the picture you point it at is enough. The only 2 things the camera changes are the optical distortion and exposure. The rest is the same. Most photographers don't undestand light and composition and try to be good at using various lens distortion properties and different exposure. Soon they fall off the track because they are not interesting enough.

I learned a lot by studying painters, photographers, and especially, cinematographers. People like Roger Deakins have been one of the greatest I've seen so far. His work doesn't speak of a man who shoots for shooting's sake. He shows understanding of what he does and by "shoot, shoot, shoot" he means "gain experience".

This is the reason why people with 2 years experience can overtake lots of others with 10 years of experience just because the latter were just "shooting" while the first one pressed the shutter only if they knew what they did.

Experimenting works best when one knows the craft and can combine several known things into an unknown result. This is what makes master chefs good: they know the craft, they are good at everything known, and are able to pull out interesting flavours from products that we'd never mix together.

Anonymous's picture

"Composition and lighting can be mastered with very little shooting"
Come on are you serious?? are you pulling my leg or something? Yes the technical side of lighting is easily learned but mastering the way you capture it is not possible with very little shooting. You need to experiment. I've been shooting for 10 years and I feel i'm just starting to really light and compose images the way I see them in my head. that came from years of shooting and experimenting.

"This is what makes master chefs good: they know the craft, they are good at everything known, and are able to pull out interesting flavours from products that we'd never mix together." yes BY COOKING and
experimenting. They didn't get there by just studying the masters, they got there by studying and cooking.

If you're a photographer you cannot gain experience without shooting. You have to shoot the shitty pictures to learn what you did wrong. To learn the craft of photography you have to take photographs.

Roger Deakins did not learn his lighting ratios in film school and call it a day. He took what he learned and experimented with it by shooting. He has a very unconventional way of lighting. Don't tell me what he meant. I was there, you were not.

Of course when you learn you're craft you're experimenting works best but if you're not out shooting you're never going to learn your craft, or learn the way the light falls or how to best compose a scene.

You got into photography to start a business and make money. that says a lot about your attitude towards the craft.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Knowing what you do is essential. Making bad pictures when attempting to do something specific is a good thing. Making bad pictures when randomly trying to change settings and click is a time not well spent.

That is why musicians don't start improvising from day one. First they try to learn the basics, be good at re-creating (playing) musical pieces, dig into the emotion of the score, and after some time they start experimenting with the instrument. First they need to know the basics and it's not just by playing, playing, and playing. It's by knowing what they play and knowing how it should sound like. They are not picking strings or pressing keys randomly to be able to learn how to play.

It's the same with photography. It's not a random "pressing of keys" and seeing what we've got as a result.

Pedro Pulido's picture

Here's the most relevant part of this entire discussion :
"If you're a photographer you cannot gain experience without shooting. You have to shoot the shitty pictures to learn what you did wrong. To learn the craft of photography you have to take photographs."

This summs it all.

This article makes absolutely no sense at all !

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

It would not make sense if it were saying you don't have to shoot at all.

It says you don't have to shoot that much to be good but you have to plan and think before pressing the button as magic doesn't happen by using a machine and pointing it towards subjects.

Read the article again and find where does it say you don't have to take pictures at all.

Taking pictures is not the whole experience. Thinking is also experience. Planning is also experience. Setting up video lights is also experience. Watching the lights on a reference monitor is also an experience without even pressing the "record" button. Checking composition without pressing the shutter is also experience.

Clicking the shutter is only a fraction of the whole picture. Being good at making pictures is not taking lots of pictures. It's immersing yourself into the whole process and understanding it in details. That costs time. That costs efforts. A fraction of these efforts are clicking the shutter.

Most beginngers take a lot of pictures and buy new cameras and reach no higher levels of photographic abilities. This article is here to tell them it's not about the images and your experience of pressing the button at different times of day or with different subjects. It's the understanding what happens that makes you progress and if possible, to understand what would happen before pressing the button.

Pedro Pulido's picture

Mr. Lazarov, everybody understood that you mean take less pictures and not NO pictures.
I still stand by what i say! Absolute nonsense. pratice leads to perfection.

scenario - you're a crazy avid clicker and you take 1000 pics a day. You have 5 keepers! I don't care!! hopefully those 995 will also teach you why you ended up ditching them. And in the long run, you shoot 500 instead of 1000 because you've perfected your art and know how to achieve what you want faster and better.
That is the only sense where shooting less makes sense - you've perfected your work and you don't need to shoot as much!
However, if in doubt with the results, hold your ground and shoot some more! More angles, different settings, i don't care! just Shoot shoot shoot! THAT is trully how you learn!

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Practice leads to perfection.

This is something I agree with with the note that practice doesn't mean "shooting". It's preparation, lighting, posing, thinking and somewhere at the end there's a click.

Repeating the whole process is what I emphasize on, not just changing settings and angles and shooting 1000 pictures 95% of which are the same because the photographer throught something miraculous would happen. I've been there in the past, I know what I'm talking about. I've been on the other side too. I simply share how I got to here and I don't regret it.

My shutter doesn't regret it either :)

Pedro Pulido's picture

from what i've read so far from you, you don't seem to actually understand other people's point of view. Your arguments are all over the place from "musicians do this" to "file pollution"...so its pretty much a waste of time to keep writing honestly...

I'm glad you found your method and good for you that it works for you. If there's one thing you need to LEARN from this life is that not all people think the same and that doesn't mean their wrong. Also, photography is not a science, there is no right solution.

Do your thing if it works for you. Just don't sell it as "the right thing to do" cause it might actually be the worst possible advice for some people.

cheers, i'm going to go pollute my camera with some files now.

I agree with you 100%

The advice of Roger Deakins isn't bad advice, even taken literally. Unless shooting more will put you into the threshold of unhealthy or unsafe situations, no bad at all can come from it.

Your advice, on the other hand, CAN encourage bad behavior from a heck of a lot of people who spend all day being "internet photographers" who can talk about theory til they're blue in the face, but can't shoot to save their life.

From what I gather, your basic premise is to do guided practice, or practice with purpose. That's great. But the way you say it leaves a lot to be desired. Reading an article on FStoppers doesn't make you a good photographer. Reading the article then practicing the crap out of the technique until you've got it down? THAT makes you a better photographer.

There is no replacement for actual practice. Your analogy about writing is absolutely incorrect. The friends I have who are successful writers got good by writing. Reading can help in ways, just like studying classical arts can help photography. But it doesn't replace practice. It is the act of writing, of creating stories, that improves their writing. It is the act of creating photographs that makes you a better photographer.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I have to make that clear that I am not talking about learning how to make a correctly (a subjective term) exposed image. This is something like learning grammar and avoiding punctuation mistakes. I am talking about being good at the craft which doesn't happen simply by experimenting. As you said, it is a guided practice. It's not just theory, it's not just practice. I'm talking about a pre-planned practical exercise.

Roger Deakins comes from a film background where "shoot" means "think and then press the button as it will cost you a lot othewise". That's why "shoot, shoot, shoot" taken literally today doesn't make it a good advice. That's what I say.

I remember when I first photographed a backlit flower in a pot. I changed the settings and wondered why it didn't come out as I saw it. I tried fixing it in post and what not. It didn't work until I learned about dynamic range. If I knew that I would not put so much effort in that but I would try to help this camera weakness.

Anonymous's picture

let me make it clear one last time about rogers advice. He was not advising me to just go out and shoot nothing. He was saying shoot but with purpose but do it a hell of a lot. Only an idiot goes out and shoots shit with no regard for what he's shooting. But even with purpose if you're not shooting a lot you're screwed.

He said starting in film limited him. He told me now shooting digitally is such a benefit to young filmmakers/photographers because they can shoot shit all day long and not have to worry about expenses. He was very very adamant about making mistakes and shooting more to correct said mistakes.

again please do not interpret his advice. Again I was there you were not. I know exactly what he told me. I've been a fan of Rogers since I was a little kid. Speaking to him goes down as one of the greatest experiences of my life. his advice was very clear to me and you thinking you know what he meant is way off base.

Roger Deakins meant what he said - shoot more. Read through Ansel Adams books and you'll find the same thing - he shot a ton just to learn how his film reacted and how he could process them differently. Cost didn't play a factor in it - shoot more. Take more photographs. You seem to be drawing a strawman that someone would interpret that to mean "sit on the couch drinking beer and holding down the shutter while the camera fires away" - absolutely no one interprets "shoot more" to mean that. It means make more photographs.

Becoming good at any craft doesn't happen without a lot of practice. Again, I have friends who are successful writers - reading a lot didn't get them there. Writing a lot did. Formulating stories and characters over and over again...THAT made them successful. I come from a very musical family - you'll never be a great musician without a LOT of practice. And that practice includes just running simple scales.

You state you aren't talking about correctly exposing an image, but then use an example of not properly understanding how to expose a back-lit subject...that doesn't strengthen your argument. But even running with that, sometimes you need to encounter an issue to know it is a problem to begin with. Then you begin looking for a solution. You found out that strong back lighting can cause issues. Many people, myself included, had that happen and went out looking for a solution. Had someone else not solved it before us, would you have thrown in the towel or experimented to solve it as the pioneers of back-light photography did? Ansel Adams solved high dynamic range issues with detailed experimentation of exposure and processing techniques.

Again, there is absolutely no replacement for practice. Yes, direction helps. But theory never trumps practice.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I am against aimless practice. I am coming from a musical background too, so I know what practicing means. In the beginning I practiced things that I knew how they should sound (my teacher was guiding me where the emotions should be stronger or not). It was not just sitting and playing notes to see if they sound right. Now after years I do my own compositions because I learned that in a purposeful way. Playing scales is made with a pupose. It is not random notes with different fingers. It is a well thought way to train the ability to play the right notes in the right pace.

What all those great photographers and cinematographers did was to purposedly learn certain specifics of the craft, most of which we owe them and have for granted. They were the pioneers. Sitting with a camera and figuring out why it's not taking a good picture just by changing settings is not the way to develop skills. Yes, you will eventually get somewhere but not that far unless you try to understand the details of it.

That's what the masters did. They pushed and pushed the limits. They shot but shot with a very clear purpose.

I think we all agree on that.

Today lots of people shoot because it's cheap and because someone told them to shoot regularly. They don't know why pictures happen to be bad or good. And years after that they still do not. That's what made me write this article. It's not about neglecting the importance of experience. I wrote in another comment here that you can't beat experience at all. It's about neglecting the real purpose why people should develop their photography skills. One thing is to have experience in understanding light and shaping it when iti comes to practice. A completely another thing is to have 5 years of shooting and 20,000 pictures behind you and not knowing basic understanding of light.

Anonymous's picture

We all understand what you mean now but the way you phrased your article was not clear at all.

It had a clickbait title that led you into this weird article about Cartier-Bresson being wrong.

Of course practicing without purpose is stupid but not practicing and relying on websites like this to teach you things is really really stupid.

I don't think this really warranted an entire article honestly. Practice what you preach. shoot something and write an article about that.

No one is arguing that deakins or cartier-bresson didn't learn their craft. of course they did but they learned it by shooting! I took a 2 year college photography course. we did some theory but we learned by doing the work and shooting. thats it. simple as that.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

One of the first articles I wrote was about learning the craft (in "part 1" as I called it) and then was planning and shooting, planning and shooting. I've shared the history of a 8 month long project where I had 29 images as a result.

Practicing what I preach would be the wrong way to do it. I prefer preaching what I already practice.

I wrote this article because I constanly see people you refer to as "stupid" because they take the "shoot, shoot, shoot" kinds of advices out of context and simply do that. They don't go that far.

Good for you that you know the real meaning of the advice. However many people don't.

Anonymous's picture

"I wrote this article because I constanly see people you refer to as "stupid" because they take the "shoot, shoot, shoot" kinds of advices out of context and simply do that. They don't go that far."

and you dont think people will read this article and think "hey i dont have to shoot a lot. I can just read it on the internet and know how to do it."?

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Even if we assume there will be such a conclusion, there will be less files pollution in the world.

Anonymous's picture

oh man you're grasping at straws now dude.

Pedro Pulido's picture

Less files pollution in the world! Trump would be proud man! hehehe! That was a funny one !

jean pierre (pete) guaron's picture

I'd love to pursue this note of yours further, Tihomir. I decided not too long ago to ditch film and immerse myself totally in digital, because it represented a whole new learning process. I have been having the time of my life, finding out about "pixels" (not all pixels are the same! - and more ain't necessarily better), the shift in areas that lose detail (as between shadow areas and highlights), "noise" instead of grain, and all sorts of other stuff. It's been quite fascinating, and as you draw readers' attention to it, it has opened my eyes in a whole new way to the study of light.

Oh - I also come with a musical background attached - my mother and I both studied at the Conservatorium, and I've been nuts about music ever since I was about 3.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Yeah. I started when digital was the "norm" but I spent 6 months studying light and composition without having any camera in my hands, so I knew what was the right thing to buy and the right thing to do after that.

I found that diligently examining a subject matter is the shortest path to the goal. It won't be the easiest but is definitely the shortest. Speaking about photography and video, it's the path with less megabytes of files (which means less clicks).

reminds me of what my tennis coach told me, go out there and hit 10,000 forehands, then you'll start to get it. He was right.

jean pierre (pete) guaron's picture

Maybe "everyone is different". I actually found along the way that my mind functions as a camera - wherever I go, whatever I'm doing, whatever I see, my mind is continually "framing" what's in front of my eyes, and assessing it. Gathering information on light, shade, shapes, colours, textures, composition, whatever.

If I have one of my cams with me, I often photograph something to experiment with different settings, to see if I can capture what my mind has settled on & examined.

In the course of doing things like that, I quite often do make a "project" of it - to plumb the depths of the subject, and see which "version" I prefer. I've been doing exactly that lately, with several different "projects", and it's highly informative & educational. Different cameras, different lenses, different settings, all yield surprisingly different results, even under the same conditions.

And as a result of all that, I find that when I set out to take a specific shot of something, I have a much better understanding of what's likely to happen when I press that button.

Are we talking about the same thing from different perspectives or directions, Tihomir?

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Yes, I am talking about the same thing. Shooting with understanding and a very clear technical/visual purpose. Not shooting because someone said we have to do it and waiting if we have been lucky to get a nice picture today. For athletes it works. For photographers it doesn't.

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